Megan Saves Maryah from Marriage

Mshairfeh, Jerash, Jordan

From Megan and Maryah do Eid al-Adha in Mshairfeh

After all the Eid al-Adha festivities at the homes of Abu Saleh’s sons, many of them went to Amman to help Dar Saleh make a sacrifice, as Saleh himself has been tragically incapacitated by a brain tumor. My roommate Megan and I stayed in Mshairfeh and went down the hill to celebrate with Dar Nasri, the family of my best friend and Arabic teacher in the village, Wijdan Umm Tareq. (To better make sense of these names, read this earlier entry.)

Though I have managed to avoid him till now, Wijdan’s dirty old man of a brother-in-law Nasr came to visit, along with his second son, Sahem. He started out talking about politics and telling us how the US legal system works, since he’s recently begun a law degree at Jerash University (God help us!), and is always eager in any case to make himself look smart. But eventually, as always, he wanted to know why I hadn’t married an Arab yet. Before he could recommend his own son as a groom, Megan said, bless her heart, “Maryah! Don’t you have a list of requirements for your future husband?”

She was referring to a defense mechanism I had developed in my Peace Corps days to fend off marriage proposals from my colleagues at the Mshairfeh Girls School. I told them that they shouldn’t even bother to mention any man to me who didn’t meet these 5 minimum requirements, which I began to relate to Nasr, his son Sahem, his wife, and all of Wijdan’s family.

1. He must have at least a Masters degree, as I have a Masters degree and don’t want him to feel he’s less educated than I.
2. He must speak English, not because I don’t like to learn new languages, but because it’s the global language, and with it we could live anywhere in the world.
3. He must have lived abroad and liked it enough to do so again, because I hope to continue my globetrotting lifestyle for some time.

At this point, Sahem leapt to his feet and stormed out of the house.

4. He must make me his first and last wife.

Now Sahem returned to the house, just in time to hear the last condition, which I didn’t always have to mention, but which has never failed to make a Jordanian throw up their hands in disbelief and admit defeat:

5. He must allow his children to choose any religion they choose, by which I don’t mean merely Christianity or Islam. My children must be free to choose anything: Hinduism, Taoism, Wicca … or none at all.

As predicted, they told me that these were absolutely unreasonable requests. Children always follow their father’s religion, for a start! It would be absolutely impossible to find someone who met all those requirements!

But of course, this is very good news for me. It will be a very long time, if ever, before anyone asks me again to marry Sahem!

From Megan and Maryah do Eid al-Adha in Mshairfeh

Later, Wijdan wanted to know how I could possibly expect to find someone who would meet my high standards. I pointed out that I had met many men in America who met those requirements, they just weren’t the right men, or weren’t available. But what about love? she asked. If I fell in love with someone who didn’t meet all those requirements, would I still be able to marry them? Of course, I conceded, all of these requirements are ultimately negotiable, but they sure do a great job of fending off marriage proposals in Jordan!


  1. English is the global language? I don’t think so.I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is unethical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!Unethical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is long overdue.An interesting video can be seen at Professor Piron was a former translator with the United NationsA glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at


  2. You and Professor Piron make excellent points, which I have heard before, about the cultural imperialist implications of English as a global language, the negative psychosocial effects of speaking your non-native language with most native speakers, and the mind-boggling complexity of English and all its exceptions and nuances. I’ve been a friend, language partner, trainer, mentor, editor and teacher of non-native speakers of English for a decade now, and I have always said that I am very glad to be a native speaker, because I would never want to have to learn English as a foreign language. I agree that English as a lingua franca is unethical, linguistically undemocratic, and probably illogical given the complexity of its grammar.Nevertheless, you and Profesor Piron are idealists, as I see it. (And I love idealists! I wish I could shed my sense of practicality and become one!) Perhaps only 10% of the world’s population are competent speakers of English as the professor says; I defer to his expertise. But far higher numbers of people speak some degree of English. In my limited experience in Europe and the Middle East, I have found people everywhere I’ve been who spoke enough English to cover basic conversation. When I say English is the global language, I don’t mean that everyone everywhere can discuss politics and philosophy in English. I mean that in many parts of the world, a few people know enough English that I can buy food and souveniers, get directions, find a bathroom, and apologize for America’s blunders abroad. English is exponentially more predominant on the Internet than any other language, even in developing countries like Jordan and China. (Before you say it, I know that the Internet is a traditionally elitest venue, but electronic communications are becoming more and more prevalent among the less wealthy in the developing world, too.)Unfortunately, while I applaud the more democratic and egalitarian (though still largely Eurocentric) qualities of Esperanto, I don’t see a bright future for it. In a century, despite its advantages, it hasn’t yet come to be as widely spoken and taught as English, Spanish, French, Russian, Mandarin or Arabic, all of which have the same ethical, democratic and logical shortcomings as English. I know that there’s been an uptick in Esperanto classes in China, and this could be a hopeful sign.However, at the moment, I see no indication that Esperanto or any other artificial language will become lingua franca over a naturally evolved language backed by the economic, political and soft power of one or more nations. I applaud you for opposing the tyranny of English, but practically speaking, the end of it is not in sight.


  3. “the negative psychosocial effects of speaking your non-native language with most native speakers, and the mind-boggling complexity of English and all its exceptions and nuances” You pharse it so much better than I can when it comes to describing the frustration I see on Nic’s face at times when we’re talking. There is definitely an effect on him when we’re visiting in PA. I’ve never seen him so relieved to speak French as I did when we were in HdG and my mom’s best friend who speaks fluent French was able to talk to Nic in in his native tongue, even if it was “France” French rather than Quebecois French. And yes there is a definite distinction between the two dialect of French. I’m getting to the point were I can tell them apart. I will say this though. When I first came up here I knew no French and yet I was able to get my point across. Why? Because people here recognize English even if it’s just from watching tv, or yes, no, toaster being all that they remember from school. English seems to be common enough that people who understand it can communicate with those who are native anglophones even though they may not be native speakers themselves. My mother-in-law speaks very little English and yet we communicate just fine. I speak to her in English and she speaks to me in French. Oh and speaking of apologizing about America’s blunders, my Uncle Kevin apologized to Nic for the US government and Bush for being idiotic. Uncle Kevin felt good about being able to apologize to a member of the international community. It’s interesting here though because of the language laws. Everything has to be in French and English on packaging. Nic and I were talking about the fact that stores here are being endorsed by the provincial government as serving people in French. It’s not only a right to be served in French here there is pride in it too. I can see both sides of the issue though because there are native English speakers here who feel marginalized. Sometimes i feel a bit marginalized because I’m not a fluent French speaker. I’ve been ignored outright for speaking English. That happened at a concert and once in the hospital. oh well someday I’ll be speaking French. Lena


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